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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 10, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
June 10, 2012

1 Samuel 8:4-20; 11:14-15; Psalm 138; Mark 3:20-35

True kindred of Jesus’

Reading Mark’s account of the true kindred of Jesus – and the implied critique of those constrained by cultural and religious mores – I think of another bold religious leader – one who attracted crowds and aroused suspicion of madness. In London, 274 years ago, John Wesley wrote of his “heart strangely warmed”.

“I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation,” Wesley wrote, “and an assurance was given me that Christ had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

It’s a well-known text. It’s also well-known that John was widely regarded a strange soul, a strange person: an open-air preacher, an eccentric cleric, passionately engaged in mission work and theological debate, restless, sometimes withdrawn, highly educated, committed abolitionist, unhappily married … A true kin of Jesus is one who proclaims that God attends to the lowly and keeps an eye on the haughty (Psalm 138). A true kin of Jesus is one in whom it is seen that “Christ conquers death on … behalf [of all] by … exemplifying agape, and stimulating it in [others]” (Mark Johnston). A true kin of Jesus is one alert to the movement of Spirit in the world. God be with you

John Wesley was a priest in the Church of England during the period following the agricultural revolution (1730s–40s). Large numbers of farm workers, displaced serfs, converged on the city, desperate for work. Most could not read or write, many drank heavily, succumbed to sickness or criminal activity.

Wesley involved himself, gave himself, to what he saw to be a movement of the Spirit in his day – a “rising of the poor” – peasants, working people, claiming for themselves a place within the religion of the time, which they had been otherwise denied, and creating for themselves societies and associations to support and extend their new-found consciousness.

In a sermon on “National Sins & Miseries”, he said: “That the people suffer, none can deny … thousands of people in the west of England, throughout Cornwall in particular, in the north, and even in the midland counties, are totally unemployed … I have seen not a few of these wretched creatures … standing in the streets, with pale looks, hollow eyes and meagre limbs; or creeping up and down like walking shadows. I have known families, who a few years ago lived in an easy genteel manner, reduced to just as much raiment as they had on, and as much food as they could gather in the field. To this one or other of them repaired once a day, to pick up the turnips which the cattle had left; which they boiled, if they could get a few sticks, or, otherwise, ate them raw.”

Wesley didn’t just preach about poverty. He didn’t just provide handouts. He listened and learned from those “in misery”; from their courage he learned joy – rooted in friendship with Christ. He made them, whom others called “a few raw, young, unlettered men [and women]”, preachers and leaders of small support groups, house churches and proto-trade unions. A list of Bristol preachers in 1741 includes “2 hoopers, 2 weavers, 2 master-mariners, 2 braziers, a house carpenter, a serge maker, a cork cutter”.

Wesley’s sole criterion was whether a potential preacher had a “spiritual power” and a “conviction to declare”. He trusted their call and believed God was at work in and among them.

Wesley received a great degree of acceptance and affection from the common people. He became, ultimately, more uncomfortable with the upper class, Oxford or London society, than with his “Kingswood colliers”. His highest praise was to say that someone was like one of his Kingswood colliers. “O, that our London brethren would come to school at Kingswood,” he wrote.

His style of living reflected his giving himself, his incarnation into the world of working people. He kept a very simple “cell” in London, Bristol and Newcastle. When elsewhere, he stayed with his preachers. He lived on 28 pounds a year and gave away the rest [from what I can work out this means he gave away about a third of his stipend]. He urged and practised a diligent frugality. He saw to it that all the giving of his congregations went to those in need. [Only in later Methodism was most of it deflected into buildings and ministerial salaries, with only a token “Poor Fund” left at an infrequent sacrament.]

So fundamental was his living among the poor that several of his successors as President, after his death, were from the artisan or even less-skilled groups.

In a leaflet addressed to his fellow disapproving clergy, Wesley said: “The rich, the honourable, the great, we are thoroughly willing to leave to you. Only let us alone with the poor, the vulgar, the base, the outcasts of men [sic].” And to George II (pertinent in light of our reading from 1 Samuel, and, indeed, on this Diamond Jubilee holiday weekend), he declared: “We are inconsiderable people, a people scattered afield and trodden underfoot. Silver and gold have we none.”

Wesley’s witness is pertinent today, in light of our Gospel, in that, like the witness of Jesus, it speaks of a God who gives Godself away, a self-emptying motivated by care and genuine concern for others – a self-emptying, ultimately, unhindered by ridicule or scorn.

In Roman Palestine, a criminal was forced to carry a cross through the city. A public display of guilt that attracted ridicule and scorn, and horror. “Take up your cross and follow me,” says Jesus, according to a later chapter of Mark. In other words: “Be willing to publicly display your faith and endure the consequences of such a display”.

Because God’s promise to send a Messiah, a servant-ruler unlike the kings of old, is fulfilled; because John Wesley and others remind us that this messianic praxis, this agape goes on … we are freed from anxieties of self (How do I prove myself, succeed, impress, achieve, avoid ridicule and pain?), freed for genuine concern (How shall I respond to pain in the world?), free to love and to give, assured that what we have to give – hearts strangely warmed, souls regarded strange – is more than enough, is gift.

What have you found to be a helpful means of overcoming harsh criticism or ridicule?

… Amen.